Update: Vietnam now offers electronic visas for U.S. citizens! For a detailed breakdown of the visa process and application links, click here.
Recently visiting the alluring country of Vietnam was a great experience. Getting the visa on arrival was not. Without a government sanctioned website to obtain a pre-approval letter – a letter that is required to get into the country without a visa – I was left with a successful leap of faith, described below.
Visa On Arrival: Pre-Trip
In a bit of a paradox, the Vietnam visa on arrival requires the bulk of the work prior to arriving in the country. To be sure, if you are in the U.S. (or other home country) you may apply for the Vietnamese visa at the U.S. embassy. But the time spent traveling, applying and waiting for your passport is a high cost in my eyes.
I recommend the other way: have a third party complete the visa on arrival letter approval for you, a process completed in Vietnam. The third party will obtain the pre-approval necessary to then pick up your Vietnamese visa on arrival at the airport – meaning less time at an embassy and no need to send your passport anywhere (key for those traveling).
The “leap of faith” is that there are many stories of third parties charging ludicrous amounts once a traveler lands in Vietnam – meaning payment or exportation. Luckily My Vietnam Visa is the company I used with glowing results. They require 3-5 business days to complete the approval letter (although there is a same-day rush visa at a higher cost) and then send it to you via email, all for only $20 USD. What impressed me was the responsiveness of the company: my visa came down to the wire and the company responded via email within minutes (and there is a phone line, for added benefit).
Most importantly, you, the traveler, must print the letter and bring it – along with $45 USD in cash for the stamping fee – to the airport. All in all, this is much easier than a trip to the embassy weeks before your trip commences.
Visa On Arrival: At The Airport
Once you have your approval letter and $45 USD in hand, you are ready to embark on your trip and complete the process – actually get your visa. And, whether you received a single entry, multiple entries or other type of visa on arrival, the process at the airport is the same.
First, complete the arrival card provided on your inbound flight. There will be a space for visa number – don’t worry about filling that out. Second, once in the airport look for the “Visa On Arrival” or “VOA” placard. If Hanoi International Airport was any indication, there will be a mass of people waiting.
Third, give the approval letter and passport to the gate agent – this puts you in the queue to actually receive the visa. And fourth, pay the $45 USD in cash (no ATM’s will be in the passport area) once your name is called. With a passport and one-page visa in hand, go onward through passport control and customs to complete the journey.
Visa On Arrival: Checklist
The above seems easy, but it is important to get a few things right – things that may restrict you from entering the country and get you a ticket on the first flight back (at your cost, of course). So, to review, there are two ways to obtain a Vietnam visa:
- Apply in person at your nearest Vietnam embassy (1-2 weeks)
Or, the way outlined further above, which is:
- Apply for an approval letter through a third party (3-5 business days, same day available)
- Print approval letter prior to arriving in Vietnam
- Bring passport with at least one blank page
- Withdraw $45 USD per person prior to arriving in Vietnam
- Print outbound flight itinerary for Vietnam passport control